Long-time baseball fan Ron Asta has followed baseball in Tucson for the last 47 years, and he attended the Tucson Padres’ final home game of the season on Sunday with his son Nick.
The Padres defeated the Reno Aces, 6-4, in the home closer.
“It’s really fun having baseball in Tucson,” Asta said. “I was sick to my stomach when spring training left Tucson, so I’m really happy that we have the Padres here now.”
Asta has many great memories since he started attending Tucson baseball games in 1964. He remembers watching Mark McGwire in the early 1980’s. He remembers all of the years that MLB spring training was in town. But Asta’s favorite memory is sitting in the stands at Hi-Corbett Field, watching Kenny Lofton in the 1991 Championship series when the Tucson Toros faced the Calgary Cannons.
“The place was just packed,” Asta said. “It was standing room only. And Lofton was in that series, man.”
The Toros won their first Championship ever that year. Lofton, who was the starting point guard for the University of Arizona during his college years, won MVP for the series.
As for Padres’ players, Asta most likes first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
“I like watching this Rizzo kid a lot,” Asta said. “It’s a nice chance to see an up-and-comer like him. I think there are those players that you just see immediately and say, ‘That one’s a star,’ and Rizzo is like that.”
Rizzo went 2-for-3 with a solo homerun in Sunday’s game, giving him 101 RBIs on the season.
Asta was one of approximately 5,500 fans that attended the Padres’ home closer. In the final home stand, a total of nearly 23,000 attended the five-day series.
“The fans in Tucson have really started to show up here at the end of the year, and it’s a lot easier to play when there’s fans in the stands,” Padres shortstop Steve Tolleson said.
“You know, fan attendance shouldn’t affect you, but it does. It’s nice to see a full house and have some energy in the ballpark. It really helps the players, so we appreciate them coming out. We hoped we could leave a good taste in their mouth in the way we played this last series. We really wanted to go out playing well here.”
Tucson won five of their six final home games against Reno.
“Fan attendance definitely makes a difference,” Rizzo said. “We feed off the fans’ energy, and this whole homestand has been great. It was our first year here, so we didn’t know what to expect, but the fans have been really nice to us and have treated us well.”
In their last game at Kino Stadium this season, the Padres found themselves down a run in the top of the first on back-to-back basehits by Reno. The Aces increased their lead to 3-0 in the third on a 2-run triple by Ryan Langerhans. Reno’s Andy Tracy and Cody Ransom had back-to-back singles to set up Langerhans’ three-bagger.
Tucson retaliated in the bottom half of the third with a two-out double down the first base line by Eric Patterson to make the score 3-1. Rizzo solo homered in the fourth to pull Tucson within one run.
“I had seen his pitches throughout my first at-bat and was able to jump on a good slider,” Rizzo said. “I have been trying to be consistent and finish the year strong,”
In the bottom of the sixth, the Padres stole the lead on a 3-run homerun by Matt Clark to put the score at 5-3. Tolleson had doubled, and Rizzo was hit by a pitch to set the table for Clark’s homerun. The ball had made it just inside the right field foul pole.
“I knew the ball had the distance off the bat, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to stay fair,” Clark said. “I was just looking for a pitch to hit, and he was throwing me a bunch of sliders. And he left one in the middle of the plate, so I was able to put a good swing on it.”
In the top of the seventh, Reno tallied another run, but Tucson reliever Greg Burke got out of a bases-loaded jam to keep the score at 5-4.
In the bottom of the eighth, Rizzo doubled and Clark singled with one out. James Darnell, the next batter, then missed the sign for a suicide squeeze.
“Riz told me when he was standing on third that he didn’t think Darnell had received the sign,” Padres manager Terry Kennedy said. “But I went through with it anyway, and luckily, it worked out.”
With Rizzo dashing toward the plate on the next pitch, Darnell grounded into a fielder’s choice to score Rizzo from third and put the Padres ahead by two.
With the game at 6-4, Brad Brach took the mound in the ninth and pitched a hitless, scoreless inning to clinch Tucson’s victory.
“I was aggressive with my fastball tonight and threw spitties to the lefties when I was ahead in the count,” Brach said. “I was trying to counteract their patience with being aggressive in the zone and make them swing at my pitch.”
Tucson starter Matt Buschmann received the win and went 6 1/3 innings on 4 runs, 8 hits and 2 strikeouts. Reno starter Wes Roemer took the loss on 5 runs in 6 innings.
The Padres are now 62-75, and the team finishes its season on the road on Monday, Sept. 5 in Reno.